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Posted July 26, 2005
A Walk Into Oblivion
The name Jim Thompson may not be striking or glamorous, but add the title `King of Thai Silk¿ and silence will descend as everyone withdraws into their own thoughts and theories about the man that was the making of not one, but two legends. First, his successful foray into unknown territory of the world of Thai Silk Art and its marvellous revival. But it was perhaps the second legend ¿ his disappearance into thin air ¿ that evoked more celebration. Born in Delaware in 1906, Jim Thompson¿s all American upbringing belied his eventual exotic and exciting life in a city far away from the developed, modern United States. In the 1920¿s and 1930¿s, Jim was a Princeton graduate and a part of the high class New York society. During his marriage to a model,Jim, who was an OSS officer ( a predecessor to the CIA) was sent on a mission to parachute into Thailand to help liberate the country from the Japanese invasion. However, before it was carried out, the Japanese surrendered and at the end of World War II, Thompson found himself in a city that would seduce and enchant him forever. When his wife divorced him and the life he had in America was a life he no longer wanted Thompson decided to make Bangkok his place of residence. He began to travel incessantly and it was on one of these explorations upcountry that he stumbled upon the dying industry of raw Thai Silk. His interest propelled him to numerous researches and finally he discovered an impoverished village of Ban Krua weavers made up of Muslims in a country dominated by Buddhists. These Muslim weavers were rather puzzled by the sudden attention to their work but were compliant with the American man¿s orders. Soon their product was famous the world over with a little prod and push by Thompson, who had travelled to New York and with his contacts in the fashion world managed to capture magazine Vogue¿s interest. The rest, as they say, is history. Due to Thompson¿s perseverance, Thai silk became a prosperous industry, providing the weavers with wealth they could only have dreamed of. The Muslim weavers were now able to save money and send their children abroad to study and on a spiritual level were also able to go for the Hajj, a pilgrimage that every Muslim is required to perform. After establishing the Thai Silk Company Ltc, Thompson focused on other aspects of personal enjoyment such as collecting Thai artefacts and paintings which he lovingly displayed in his renowned Thai house. However, not everything in his Thai life ran smoothly. He was much disturbed by the 1949 coup, where he lost his friends to executions perpetrated by the anti-Pridi government and since then vowed to remain silent on his opinions of the subsequent government. In the early sixties, the Siam Society accused him of possessing stolen sacred loomheads which he begrudgingly surrendered and resigned from the society. More than anything else, Thompson was hurt by the allegation : he had only had Thailand¿s best interest at heart when he collected their valuables. His aim was to ensure that Thailand¿s objet d'art would never be sold outside the country and to remain in its native for eternity. He had even written the said society out of his will and in a second one, left all his belongings and possessions to his nephew. In 1967, Jim Thompson and his constant travelling companion, Connie Mangskau embarked on a journey to Cameron Highlands, a famous highland/jungle resort located in Malaysia. They stayed with Singaporeans Dr Ling and Mrs Ling in their vacation house, Moonlight cottage. On Easter day, after a picnic, the party that consisted of Mangskau, Thompson and the Lings returned to the cottage for a rest. But instead of the nap everyone was retiring to, Jim apparently had other plans. He took a walk into total oblivion and never came back. It has been more than thirty years since the mysterious disappearance of Jim Thompson. Thirty years of theories on suicide, unfortunate accidents, ravaged by jungle beasts
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